Bright and early at 8am we left the Flamingo hotel and headed to Napa for a day of touring wineries up and down the valley. Our schedule started with Baldacci Vineyards in Stags Leap District, then off to Black Cordon Vineyards on the western side of the valley. After that to Caymus Vineyards in Rutherford for lunch, Long Meadow Ranch in St Helena, Monticello Vineyards in Oak Knoll District, and finishing up back in Rutherford with our friends of Arroyo Seco Vineyards (Rutherford Wine Co.) for dinner.
Baldacci Vineyards was beautiful. The vines were almost 100% through veraison with great clusters of purple! We spent some time in the vineyards learning about what makes the environment of the Stag’s Leap District so special. The family was on hand to pour the wines in the caves and explain their vision with their wines. The Brenda’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon was fantastic – it comes right from the vineyard outside the winery. What a treat to taste these, we also got to taste the 2011, which is still in barrel.
Then we were off to the other side of the valley to visit Black Cordon and 16×20. The property is on the western side of the valley. Their property actually is split between two appellations, Oak Knoll District and Mount Veeder. This is not a winery to visit. It is a small husband and wife operation with the help of their friend, famed winemaker Paul Hobbs. They hosted us at their home with spectacular views of the valley. As we arrived, we realized that the road was too narrow and steep for the buses so we had to hike up the mountain to their home. It was a steep, steep road that really got the heart pumping to get up there. That 16×20 chard never tasted so good!
Caymus for lunch – what can I say, Chuck Wagner hosted us and CLOSED the winery for our visit! Chuck was a really fantastic host. The smoked tri-tip roasts served were outstanding, a California specialty. Our team tasted through the entire portfolio from Mer Soleil to the Belle Glos Pinot Noirs, to the Special Select Cabernet Sauvignon. I now have a Conundrum cooking apron and a Belle Glos hat to add to my two collections of winery hats/aprons.
We headed off to Long Meadow Ranch in St Helena with full bellies. Originally we were supposed to meet at their tasting room just around the corner from Tra Vigne restaurant, but they invited us up to the ranch instead. Now that was a tight road. I felt sorry for our bus driver Adolfo; he was a brave man! We made it safely and the view – well, it was worth it. These folks have really an amazing story. Not only do they make great wine, but they are all about being local. The Long Meadow Ranch is a very old ranch that has been in operation for over 100 years. They raise cattle, have a large garden in Rutherford and own the restaurant The Farmstead in St Helena. The majority of the food that is served there comes from their products, seasonally. We got to take a hike up the mountain into their vineyards which was a real treat – although some of the “city folk” didn’t enjoy the walk as much as I did. Long Meadow Ranch has been farming their grapes organically since 1998 which makes for really fantastic wines!
Then we went back down the mountain and over to Oak Knoll district to visit with the Corley family, owners of Monticello Vineyards. This is a really cool property. They have replicated Thomas Jefferson’s house in Virginia. The wines were the most “old world” of the day, a refreshing change from all the classically structured cabernets we had enjoyed previously today. Their Merlot and Red Blend were team favorites. The winery is owned by the Corley family. You might see some of the Corley reserve in our stores from time to time, but the production is so limited, there’s not much to be had.
The FINAL stop of the day was in Rutherford with our great friends of Arroyo Seco Vineyards. These folks make the Montoya, Muirwood and Dominican Oaks wines for us and they really laid out the spread. The team tasted through the new vintages of the entire lineup from each of those brands. I believe these wines are top in class for values and this tasting just confirmed it for me. These folks not only make wine but they grow table grapes that make fantastic raisins! We got a canister of raisins to take with us for snacks later in the week and were able to snack on their grapes throughout the meal. Speaking of the meal, while sitting under 100 year old olive trees they served us whole pig, homemade sausage and of course some great wine! I had the pleasure of sitting next to and chatting with the owner, Morgan Zaninovich, over dinner. We actually used to live right down the road from each other in Napa many years ago!
What a great second day in California wine country! Sleep is next on the agenda, then off for another winery packed day in Napa tomorrow.
**Check out more photos from all of the wineries we’ve visited on flickr: California Wine Experience 2012**